Friday, 12 September 2008

A Final Thought from BAM: Two to Track on Leadership

The developmental papers at the British Academy of Management are always interesting because of the short presentations and long discussions, a format used in many conference nowadays.

I attended a few sessions on leadership to learn something for our research projects and was delighted to come across two pieces of work in progress that deserve a wider audience - which I'm sure they will get when they're more complete. One was on the popular topic of Authentic Leadership (based on Goffee and Jones's work) by Jane Turner from Northumbria. She has only recently moved into academia from practice, which was reflected in the practitioner-oriented nature of her excellent presentation. Authentic leadership focuses on being true to others and true to yourself, and she described work she was doing with a group of senior leaders to try to get them to get to grips with this concept and turn it on themsevles. The mode of action research and her results were of great interest to the audience, though there were some unresolved questions over what to do about the insightful reflections she had generated among her group of leaders. The notion of authenticity links both our work on strategic HR leadership and our work on employer branding; I'm certainly going to read more on this and look forward to seeing Jane's work in the future.

Gareth Edwards from the Leadership Foundation presented an excellent joint paper with Birgit Schyne from Portsmouth Business School on emotions and implicit leadership theory. This notion is a highly attractive one to me because it helps explain why leadership is becoming such an important topic. In a recent post on the NHS, I raised the issue of 'does leadership matter'? The objective evidence suggests it is not all that important to performance in many contexts but has become something of an industry. However, many of us in attitude surveys and in our everyday discussions about work raise the issue of leadership as an important one, because we hold implicit theories of what leaders should do and how they should behave, based on our individual and cultural belief sets. In other words, leadership can be thought of more as a phenomena created by followers to help them make sense of organizational life and performance, and because we need to attribute cause and blame to complex organizational problems (attribution). The paper raised two questions: how do emotional reactions to the same leader vary among followers and to what extent are these reactions shaped by the implicit leadership theories. Gareth and Birgit produced a very useful framework for explaining how follower characteristics and implicit leadership theories will cause employees to see the same leader differently and to generate different emotions reactions to him/her, which they hope to test in a laboratory setting. Again, I look forward to reading more because it helps us make sense of some results we are unearthing in out branding project for the NHS in Scotland. Leadership really seems to matter to employees perhaps because they expect it to make a signicant difference in this world of celebrity, which places incredible pressure on senior managers who are often unable to fulfil these expectations. This may be because of the difficult constraints they operate under (especially in political organizations such as the NHS) and simply because different people expect different things of the same leader. A no-win situation for mangers? Which might explain why leaders recruit in their own image and engage in emotion shaping culture management/employer branding/leadership branding programmes?


James said...

Hi Graeme,

Thanks for comment on my blog and reference to me on your own.

You're the only blogger I know in person!

Good luck with Web 2.0 project and happy to help.


Graeme's HR Blog said...

And thanks James for an excellent blog and some good research in this field, which we'll cite in the report. I'm sure we wil run into each other when this stuff becomes more mainstream